I like this piece.

Reflections of Enchantment

~Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. ---Rainer Maria Rilke

Here I come, princess.

Here I come.

I've ridden my horse with a better and better seat these last years. I can fight, I can joust, I can write poetry - with limited success - and I am finally ready to kill dragons.

More than ready. Destined.

I'm just sorry that it took me so long.

I've been growing up to be a knight, and you've been growing up… in this dark tower. Maybe you've had birds and wild animals for company. Princesses often do.

I'm sorry for you.

I wonder what you're like? Back at the castle, they all say that the hardest thing's not killing the dragon, it's winning the princess. Maybe if I come across as a sensitive kind of person. I don't know. A lot of princesses these days don't like good old champions-of-honour - we have to be something more.

Maybe if I come across like I'm-human-and-not-afraid-to-admit-it. Maybe I could tell you that I'm afraid of the dragon. It's only my second one, after all.

v v v

The horse had the grand name of Godric, while he was called, humbly, Andrew. How's that for irony. Not that he minded, really. Really, Godric was welcome to his name, and even more so if it helped him act out his part of fierce, intelligent, loyal, patient Battle Steed.

Sir Andrew was reaching the dragon's Tower now. It was round and broad and strong at the base, with a thinner tower rising out of the middle of it. It was made of black stones, made in the old way. Probably the dragon had eaten the inhabitants, or claimed it when it fell abandoned, and then scorched it black.

Unlike many such keeps, it wasn't on top of a hill, but built into the side of one instead. The hill was a grassy one, with small trees here and there, and Sir Andrew was looking at it from across a small, flowery meadow.

He started Godric again, at a no-nonsense, purposeful trot.

He rode his horse through a huge, arching opening, into the Tower itself, and found both of them - the princess and the dragon - as if they had been waiting for him.

The princess, upon seeing him, turned and fled.

"Come back, princess!" Andrew called. "I've come to…" He let his voice die away because he could see that the princess wasn't going to return.

"She can't," the dragon said calmly. "Not while I'm here." Its voice was like the echo of rocks falling all around him.

It took Andrew a couple of tries to get his sword out of its sheath, although he had carefully checked both, only this morning. Staring up at the dragon, he saw how vast it was, and at the same time, how magnificent. It was a dark, slate-gray creature, with a huge, almost rectangular head. It had small, short, gleaming horns that became sharp at their tips, where they separated into two points each, like metal tines. Its body was a shimmer of shadowy grey and black, whose tones melted into each other and were dappled. Its head was as big as his horse's body and it carried on from there, with great talon-tipped wings and strong, thick, three-toed legs.

He knew that he could never have said this to the princess, yet it seemed right to say it to the dragon.

"I'm afraid of you," he said clearly, his sword pointing towards the ground.

The dragon's eyes glowed, as if lit by moonstones from their depths. It opened its mouth again, and its breath was surprisingly cool. "I'm afraid of you," it echoed, its voice a tremendous song of avalanches and meteors and crashing stars.

Andrew suddenly realised why his sword had stuck before. He looked down at his weapons and found them pitted with rust, almost crumbling as the dragon's voice resonated through them. His helmet was stiff and his visor wouldn't flip down. He hoped he could easily get the helmet off his head.

He turned his horse and trotted away, to the edge of the meadow, and beyond it into a small wood, to make plans of battle.

v v v

Andrew appeared the next morning in much lighter armour, with such weapons as a club, and a wooden-tipped spear. Luckily, his chain mail had been protected by his outer armour and had only rusted in its most exposed places. He had left it behind this time and wore armour of leather.

He found no dragon. Sunlight streamed from a huge, high window that he hadn't noticed before, and where the light fell on the floor, the princess sat, doing something with thread in her hands.

"Hail," he said.

"Greetings," said the princess. Her voice was clear, but oddly enough, reminded him of the dragon - not the same inflection, not the same tone… No, maybe they weren't alike at all. When looking at the dragon, his mind had been filled with poetic words, but they seemed rather silly for the princess - he wasn't really a poet. She had fine skin, very pale, which was probably because of living in this tower, in the dark. Her eyes were blue, and her expression was neutral. Her hair was brown with gold highlights. She was wearing a pale purple dress.

Lilac, that was the word.

He put the club down carefully on the floor. It occurred to him that he could pick the princess up and ride off with her now. The dragon seemed to be gone. How to suggest it to her, politely? He was trying to come up with an appropriate line when the princess spoke.

"The dragon left that," she said, nodding to a sort of bird-bath in the middle of the floor, which now was filled with water. "It wants you to look into it."

"Doesn't the dragon have a name?" he asked. "Is it just 'it'?"

"You ask the dragon's name before you ask mine," mocked the princess lightly.

"I'm sorry -"

"The dragon's name is Athazel," the princess continued, interrupting him. "Not an it, but a she. And I am Palaquira."

"I salute you. I am Sir Andrew."

The princess dipped her head in the normal polite way. Andrew looked at her, and then at the pool of water, not wanting to stare at the princess. The thing he had taken for a bird-bath might actually be a dragon's goblet… it was made of dark stone and shaped like an ornate chalice, the height of his spear.

"Is it safe?" he asked Palaquira.

"Safer to look than not to look," she replied, fingers entwined with thread.

With that enigmatic advice, Andrew crossed over to the dragon's chalice and looked into the water.

v v v

His puzzled, thoughtful reflection, as a lock of reddish-sandy hair fell over his eyes, clouded, and vanished. The water rippled out from the centre and then back in again.

The princess appears, her back to him, in an elaborate yellow dress. He can see that it's not her colour. It's tight, and she fidgets. She is younger here. She's sitting by a window, looking out of it... a dragon appears. Athazel. Palaquira stands. She steps onto the windowsill, holding on with one hand, and with the other, reaching out. The dragon swoops. She passes under Palaquira's window, and Palaquira jumps... she lands on Athazel's back, clumsily; she tumbles. But Athazel tilts, so that Palaquira rolls onto the middle of the dragon's back, where she grabs a spike, triumphantly... and then Athazel goes. Behind them a castle recedes, a great and glorious one.

Ripples... towards him.

Stones are piled around Palaquira. The dragon's shadow swings over her as Athazel flies back and forth, building her Tower. The princess sits in the rubble, looking up at the sky and watching the dragon. Occasionally, she moves to allow the dragon to place a stone. She wipes the dust off her face.

In a high room in the dragon's Tower, Palaquira sits, sewing. Her yellow dress is tattered, and she is making herself others - simple ones, from great bolts of fabric spread out on the smooth stone floor. The dragon's eye is framed by the window as she looks in on the princess, watching Palaquira as she pricks herself with a pin and adds a small smudge of blood to the ruin of the yellow dress.

Palaquira sits in the sunlight, busy with a pattern on the floor... a drawing. A knight rides in. He rides up to the princess, and picks her up, at which point Athazel swoops. The knight drops Palaquira as he ducks, and Palaquira rolls to the side, out of the way of the mount's shifting hooves. She is not afraid of the dragon. She is afraid of the knight. Her face shaping words, she points at him. Athazel swoops again. The dragon doesn't miss.

The princess stands on the roof of her tower. The dragon flies in the sunset, burning in it. Palaquira watches Athazel, and with that gaze on her, Athazel's head turns. The princess and the dragon lock eyes... neither look away... and suddenly Athazel can no longer be seen, as the perspective shifts into the dragon's own eyes, and what the dragon sees is the princess, and her own intense gaze.

Another knight. Who fights. Palaquira is sitting on the stairs that lead deeper into the keep, watching the fight tensely and silently. The dragon is winning. She knocks the knight down, and with his throat exposed, positions herself to kill him. Palaquira stands, speaks. Athazel moves back and lets the knight up.

Sound - words... "I'll be back," the knight declares: he is tough and middle-aged. "I won't give up, princess, not until I'm dead or you're rescued."

Palaquira speaks to him. "It won't work. The dragon must be vanquished in the first battle or not at all. Noble knight, I thank you nevertheless." Her words... as the knight disappears... are muffled by water.

Water..!

v v v

While he was there, the water seemed to be deeper than a pool, as if he were fully immersed in it, although he could feel nothing of his body past his shoulders. But he heaved his head up out of the water, and stood there, clutching the rim of the dragon's chalice, taking huge gasps of air. Water dripped down his neck and stained his chest. It wasn't the best thing for leather armour.

"Don't hurt her!" the princess cried suddenly, and fled as he looked up. Before he had turned around fully, the dragon flew in.

The room darkened for a moment as the dragon blocked the window and the sunlight coming through. Andrew blinked, and the dragon settled on the floor, almost sitting, raising herself on her forelegs. Something about her movement evoked Palaquira, for a moment, but Andrew couldn't figure out why, and as he tried, the sense disappeared. The dragon bent her head towards Andrew.

"Is now the time you wish to battle me?" Athazel asked.

"I don't know," said Andrew, stalling. His thoughts were still spinning with the pictures in the water, and he had been warned that this was what wyrms did - force you into fighting when you weren't ready and when they had the upper hand.

"You only get one chance, remember," the dragon said, after a moment.

"You made that rule up," said Andrew, with conviction.

The dragon laughed. The rocks in her voice crackled as if with heat. "I and Palaquira both," she said. "But do you think that that makes it any less real? Or, perhaps, more so?"

"Couldn't you just give her up?" Andrew asked Athazel, wondering, as he had quite often, back at the castle, why it was that dragons kidnapped princesses anyway.

The dragon laughed with ice instead of fire - ice that split rocks from within, a sardonic laugh. "Ask her the same!" she mocked. "Ask her the same. For that's the nature of our enchantment."

"Then now I will fight you," said Andrew, confused, but with authority, because such quests required them; there had to be a fight.

Athazel nodded. It was hard to think of such a small, decisive gesture made by such a great head, but she did it. The princess echoed in her, again, somehow. The dragon crouched.

v v v

Andrew moved back a step, feeling for his first weapons of choice - spear and sling. The spears hung at his side. He gathered up the sling. The dragon, instead of retreating a bit, as most dragons did before they began to fight, stepped forward... then launched herself into the air.

Andrew almost panicked. His fingers, as if separate from his fear, felt for a rock, positioned it in the sling, and then he swung it... over and over his head until he felt the right now and let it loose. This had taken only a few seconds, but already Athazel was high against the ceiling, and she dodged the flung stone by diving towards him.

She was diving steeply enough that he could fling himself forward and expect her to pass safely over him. She wasn't breathing fire. Perhaps she wasn't the kind of dragon who could. He threw himself flat on the floor and she passed with a whoosh... Her tail whipped just over his head. He scrambled to his feet. She landed, not far away from him, and regarded him for a moment.

"I've killed knights before," she reminded him in a kind of pebbly hiss.

"I've killed a dragon before," Andrew replied.

"Really?" said Athazel, confusing him for a moment by her human-like tone. But he had no time to think about it because she launched herself at him again.

She opened her jaws - a mistake - and he cast the first spear. It stuck in her dark forked tongue, and she made a sharp, angry sound. She shook her head wildly and in the time that gave him, he'd grabbed a rock, swung the sling over his head and released it to smash into a point high on her left foreleg.

She collapsed, with a kind of grating screech. It had been a small enough rock, compared to her size, but at point-blank range. Mercilessly, he shot another rock behind her ear, and grabbing his second spear, he ran forwards, jumping to kneel on her head, his spear paused above her eye to deliver a wound that would kill her.

She was hurt and groggy and didn't try to dislodge him. He wasn't sure if Athazel felt him on top of her - and then, as he had suspected she would, the princess returned. Standing so far up the stairs that he could barely make her out in the gloom, standing there as if she wanted to come closer but somehow couldn't, Palaquira screamed, "Stop! Spare her! Leave Athazel alone!"

Andrew hesitated for a moment - remembering the water visions, and especially the knight that the princess had ordered Athazel to kill - and then decided to trust her.

He stepped off and away, and walked warily around Athazel's head, where he leaned down and jerked the spear out of her tongue. She shrieked again and fell silent.

Andrew backed away towards the stairs as, slowly, the dragon got up. She made no move to attack him. She glared at him, turned, crouched, and leapt through the entranceway and up into the air. She banked right, and flew out of his sight.

"She will heal," the princess said coolly, walking down the steps. "And by the laws of combat, you forfeited your victory, as you did not require Athazel to surrender."

Andrew looked at her.

"But I 'vanquished' her, even so," he said. "And so I haven't lost my chance to fight her again, have I?"

Palaquira looked grim. "No. I suppose not. But, sir knight, would you prefer the fight to end a different way?"

She's furious at me. But all I've tried to do is rescue her.

She doesn't even want me to kill her dragon.

Her dragon...

?

v v v

In the afternoon, Andrew went about his chores, such as food for Godric, and food for himself. He finished restoring his chain mail. He built a camp fire early in the evening, after gathering a good heap of wood for it; and he used that wood up, as he sat staring into the flames, long into the night.

The problem followed him into his sleep, where it became a dragon itself. It breathed flame, like most common dragons, and struggled and put up a real fight, so that he had to leap and jump, which, in the dream, he was very good at. He leapt right over the dragon, and was disappointed when he found nothing helpful on its other side. Seeing his disappointment, the dragon/problem laughed at him. He eventually slew the dream-dragon, and woke up to find himself puzzled, even so.

He lay still, on his back, staring at the tree branches above him, and through them, what he could see of the sky.

I am here to be a knight, to rescue the princess, to slay the dragon, or, alternatively, to break the enchantment. It didn't seem a straightforward kind of quest. Whatever magic was involved was very strange. He got up slowly, muttering to himself, "When the truth is learned and spoken, the enchantment shall be broken," which was an adage drilled into everyone back at the castle.

Godric whinnied at him, demanding to be fed and looked after, and he obliged, slowly, being very far away.

He toyed, experimentally, with the idea of going back to the keep and talking to the princess, and gradually he realised that he felt awkward about going there, or at least going there immediately. He felt uncomfortable and uneasy.

Trusting his instincts, he went for a walk instead.

The sky was cloudy, with a paleness that couldn't be looked at for long. He walked through the small forest, which seemed larger now that he was going through it on foot. It was so still that he almost wanted to tiptoe, disliking the sound that he made, because it was loud enough to seem like the only sound, and made him feel intrusive and too solitary.

It began to rain, softly. Drops fell on his shoulders. Gradually, noise was added to the wood.

Andrew didn't mind. The sound of rain was reassuring, and so was its familiar touch. He thought that it wouldn't last for very long. Meanwhile, he wouldn't get very wet. His stride changed to a stroll, and he looked around him as he went.

After quite a while, he turned around and began to walk back to his small camp. Then, suddenly, he realised what had been bothering him - what had seemed strange -

She was hardly fighting me.

Athazel was holding back!

Caught up in this revelation, he didn't notice the princess until she was almost in front of him - she huddled, arms around her knees, under a tree branch. She was wearing gold-green colours, and scowling at him.

v v v

"Princess! Greetings," Andrew said, belatedly.

"And to you," she replied, but she was still frowning. He stepped forward awkwardly, wanting to say something friendly, or apologetic, but she said, "Don't." She stood up, and stepped back.

Andrew wanted to ask what he had done wrong, but felt as if, somehow, he already had, and it was that question that was making the princess frown. She was angry at him, but more than that. He thought it might be that she was also confused.

"What is Athazel, really?" he asked. "Can you answer that?"

"I'll answer it in parts," said Palaquira. "She is a dragon, and she's mine. And you nearly killed her." She was fiercer than Athazel had been.

"What kind of a dragon is she?" he pressed. "Why did she hold back?"

"Some of it, if you don't know, I can't tell you." Palaquira said. "But you're noticing things. I think that's a good sign. I hope so!" Her anger seemed desperate.

Andrew opened his mouth again, but she shook her head. "I don't want to talk any more. Watch out - Athazel's coming." She began to walk away, her arm brushing a bush so that a raindrop rolled down her hand and paused on her finger, looking like a jewel set into a ring.

"Then I'll stay and talk to her," said Andrew, turning away.

Palaquira stopped, and looked back again, confounded.

He wanted her to stay. He said, "You summoned her, didn't you?" although he didn't know how she could have.

She said, "Yes, I did."

He waited.

She said, "I shouldn't stay. I can't stay - not with Athazel coming-" but she hesitated, and just then, the dragon swooped over them, and the princess's face changed. Emotions drained out of it, and her expression - and all the tiny things in her face, all the ways shapes and shadings fit together to make it human - changed. It was still a face, but it wasn't a mortal face. It was impassive, and in the corners of its eyes were power, and myth, and a kind of natural arrogance and knowledge. And the princess turned, and ran, as Athazel wheeled in to land.

v v v

Andrew ducked behind a bush. His first thought was to hide, to protect himself from the dragon somehow. She had held back during the fight in the tower, but that fight had had an element of ritual - and he suspected, now, that it had been a kind of test. He didn't know if he had passed or failed, but he had angered both the princess and the dragon.

"Athazel!" he called, prompted by curiosity as much as courage.

"I am here, knight," Athazel's voice rumbled. With nothing but light clothes to protect him, he felt her uncanny voice echo through his bones. Only his belt buckle was metal. It rusted before his eyes. "Come out," said Athazel.

"You were holding back," Andrew said, staying where he was.

"You wounded and almost killed an opponent who was holding back," Athazel challenged.

"At first, I didn't realise," Andrew explained. "Athazel." He waited. "I told you I was afraid of you. Didn't you expect that I would act on fear?" He wondered if he should try to justify himself. It amazed him that he could speak so simply to the dragon.

"You expected to be attacked, and struck the first blow. Perhaps that is fair, or at least, understandable," Athazel said.

"Am I pardoned, Dragon?" Andrew asked cautiously.

"Yes," said Athazel. "But we don't trust you, Palaquira and I. Come out, knight. Remember that I was afraid of you, and now I have more reason for fear."

"I'm not armed," Andrew said quickly.

"Come out, slowly, and show me," rumbled the dragon.

Andrew hesitated. Perhaps not as brave as he thought he was, he felt his heart hammering as he stood up, and walked away from the tree and clump of thick bushes behind which he had been hiding.

The dragon crouched there, huge, and for a moment, neither moved. But finally, Andrew raised his arms, and spread them, to show that he was not a threat.

"I regret wounding you, and I apologise," he said.

"Accepted," said the dragon.

"Thank you." Andrew said.

v v v

For a moment, both of them were silent. It wasn't a tense silence, but a kind of respect for the alliance that had just been made between knight and dragon. The rain had stopped, and the clouds were breaking up, driven by a chilly, purposeful wind.

Andrew's head was filled with questions, and he waited to find one safe enough to ask, safe enough for Athazel to answer - for the princess and the dragon had spoken in riddles so far, seeming crippled by their secrets.

"Athazel," he said, "if I, Sir Andrew, ask you questions, will you answer them?"

"If I may," the dragon answered.

"With truth?"

"My answers will be truthful," said the dragon, and in the landslide of her voice, Andrew, listening carefully, heard warning. His reactions, his answers to what Athazel said, would be his final test, and a potentially dangerous one for him.

"Very well," said Andrew, and considered again.

He looked at the dragon, crouching in the clearing, a creature of myth and power. "Athazel, how are you enchanted?"

"I am a creature of enchantment, and it created me," hissed the dragon, settling closer to the ground. "Enchantment ties me to Palaquira, and Palaquira to me. We are part of each other. And Palaquira is partly enchanted, now, for she wanted enchantment, and she sought it, and once she wanted to be like me. And the magic tangled, and it seeks to close the gap between us." She had fallen back into riddles.

"She created you," whispered Andrew.

From the dragon came a single musical note, a deep bell tone, of triumph. "So you see," she hissed. "Yet she is not a sorceress. And now we are reflections of each other…"

The fierce, aloof, dragonlike princess, and the conversational, humanlike dragon-

"Did you see her face, knight, when I came?" whispered the dragon. "Did you see it change?"

"Was that what you meant by the 'closing gaps'?"

"Yes - for in each of us, there is a part of the other - a link. And it draws us together, turning the princess into a dragon and the dragon into a princess - the magic would make us one identity, the identity that Palaquira wanted to be - but which is not Palaquira."

"Or Athazel."

The dragon sang triumphantly again.

"When she made me," Athazel said, "she put a part of herself in me; and once she had made me, I became a part of what she was. In me, she made what she had always wanted to be, and she did it with magic - so in a magic sense, she made herself. And by the rules of magic, there were two selves then - so the magic tries to join us together. And as it strains, we are forced to put more distance between ourselves, to flee each other, in order to stay ourselves. That is our enchantment."

v v v

"Well done, Sir Andrew," concluded Athazel. "None else has understood, who came to our keep. They thought the key lay in our separation, in rescuing or purifying the Princess, and killing or driving off the Dragon."

Andrew stared off into the distance, over the wood. Athazel waited. "I think I know how to help you," the knight said quietly, hoping.

"In what way?"

"By a ritual," said Andrew, still looking elsewhere, remembering what he had been taught of magic, and what applied to identity and names.

"A simple ritual, knight?"

"Fairly simple, yes."

"Could it be done tonight?"

"I suppose so."

"Now?"

Andrew turned to look at Athazel, whose eyes were fixed on him. He hesitated; "Yes."

"Then let us go, Sir Andrew." She crouched, extending a wing.

"You mean for me to ride on you?"

"Indeed."

He scrambled on somehow, not very gracefully, but the dragon waited patiently for him to settle on her back. She had a small ridge along her back and he clasped that, and then she took off.

Andrew had not fully appreciated her wingspan before. It was tremendous. He felt as if Athazel's wings could shadow the wood, given the right angle. Her wings rowed steadily, and seemed to beat very few times before Athazel was gliding down to land in the meadow outside the Tower.

Andrew jumped down from the dragon's back, landed stumblingly, and caught himself from slipping on the wet grass. Palaquira came running out. She stopped at the entranceway and saw Andrew standing in the meadow.

"There is a ritual I was taught of," said Andrew, placing himself between Athazel and Palaquira. "I would like to try it."

The princess looked at Athazel, and nodded.

Andrew was not much of a magician, but he was aware of the principles of magical symmetry, and he knew that they were crucial here. He directed the dragon and the princess to stand some distance apart on either side of him, on opposite sides of the Tower entranceway. He stood facing outwards. "The Ritual of Naming," he declared into the cool, late afternoon air.

"Name yourselves," he said, raising his voice to make up for the distance.

"Athazel."

"Palaquira."

At this proximity, their voices sounded eerily, utterly the same. Andrew suppressed a shiver. He nodded.

"So you are. Dragon. Human. So I name you." He nodded to each as he spoke their species. This was the most important part. "So I define you."

Now the ritual must be adapted. In its original form, it was designed to free a person or a sentient creature from a certain kind of shape-changing bewitchment - which seemed oddly similar to Athazel's and Palaquira's enchantment.

"And yet in you there is a dragon," he said to Palaquira.

"And yet in you there is a human," he said to Athazel.

Both of their expressions tensed, as he brought them up against their magic.

To Palaquira: "For you are powerful, independent, fierce."

To Athazel: "For you are compassionate, self-questioning, complicated."

He thought those qualities worked within the spell. He thought it was probably a good thing that he hadn't made them rhyme.

Now with emphasis: "For you are who you are - Athazel, Palaquira. As I have defined you."

He let his voice ring, looking straight ahead, not daring to look at either of them. "So may you individually stand. So mote it be."

v v v

He made the gesture of ending, and stood still. He waited.

All knights were taught the basic forms of ritualistic magic, in order to confront evil enchantments, and understand the rules upon which they were based. All knights were taught how enchantments could be cancelled or bent - or straightened.

The basic magic of ritual, correctly applied, could be extremely powerful. Andrew stayed still, terrified that he had warped Palaquira and Athazel further - because he had felt the magic take effect, but could not tell how.

He took five long steps back, slowly, so that he could see both Palaquira and Athazel at once. Palaquira turned, and then she walked towards Athazel, testing. Her face remained the princess's face, the neutral expression Andrew had first seen her wear. And then she smiled, and then she laughed, and then she ran the last few steps to Athazel.

Athazel sang her one-note song. The dragon crouched, and Palaquira climbed gracefully up to her back. Then Athazel leapt into the air, and they soared up, Palaquira's hair flying back, the wind from Athazel's wings nearly knocking Andrew down. Andrew watched them soar.

This quest was complete. He had solved the riddle, and understood, and healed the dragon and the princess. Perhaps the day after tomorrow he would go, and perhaps in the next week he would arrive at another castle, where he would ask for news of quests, of damsels in distress…

And how would he convince others that this quest had been completed, when the dragon still lived? How would he keep other knights from coming to challenge Athazel? Perhaps he could say that he had tamed her. In a sense, this was true; he had made it so that the princess was safe with her dragon again.

And perhaps if news spread that Athazel and Palaquira were freed from their spell, then the princess would have visitors; people would not avoid the area. Perhaps the princess would not be so lonely. For he thought that she had been.

He thought that they must be the most unique partners in the world, two opposites who were able to coexist because, even now, they mirrored each other. He thought he knew what none of the other knights had; that to truly love the princess, you must also delight in the dragon.

And his heart lifted with Athazel and her rider, on their wild, free, sweep across the vast, unconquerable autumn sky.

This thing took me four months. Seriously, I've been writing it since New Year's Eve, when the above Rilke quote inspired the first few lines and the first idea.

For my Muses, M, L, and N.